Pages of Fear, Hostility, and Exploitation in Steinbeck’s
The Grapes of Wrath.
by James Boo
intercalary chapters in The Grapes of Wrath have nothing to
do with the Joads or other characters of the novel, but help
describe the story in different terms. They are similar to
poems, offering different viewpoints of the migration, and
clarifying parts of the story that the reader might not understand.
An excellent example of this use can be seen in chapter 21,
where an examination of the attitudes of migrant Okies and
the residents of California reveals the changing nature of
land ownership among the changing population of California
and gives greater meaning to the fierce hostility that the
Joads meet in California.The
first section of chapter 21 explores the plight of the Okies,
who are simple people forced to leave their homes when industrial
change complicates their lives. Steinbeck writes, "Their
senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of the industrial
life. And then suddenly the machines pushed them out and they
swarmed on the highways." This statement relates the
beginning of the novel, with particular emphasis on the death
of Grampa and Granma. When industrial farming hits the agrarian
midwest, the Joads are forced off their land and driven to
migration, deserting the house in which they have lived for
so long. Before long, Grampa dies of stroke. His life is tied
to the land and cannot keep up with such rapid change, and
when he dies Granma is sure to follow.
"The movement changed them; the highways, the camps along
the road, the fear of hunger and the hunger itself, changed
them. The children without dinner changed them, the endless
moving changed them. They were migrants."
Steinbeck emphasizes the anguish which characterizes change
in the Okies, particularly Jim Casy and Tom Joad, who will
eventually form workers' unions to rebel against landowners
in California. They suffer the anguish of losing their farms
and their homes, of being forced to move endlessly and painfully
in search of work on someone else's land. The anguish caused
by sudden change in land ownership is a major aspect of the
section of chapter 21 offers an explanation of the hostility
that the migrants meet upon arrival in California. Steinbeck
"Men of property were terrified for their property. Men
who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men
who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want
in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and
of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves;
and they reassured themselves that they were good and the
invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights."
The mild people of California find in the Okies what they
have yet to experience - fear and desperation. Sensing the
extent to which the migrants are willing to work, the locals
begin to fear for their own jobs, and most importantly, for
their own property. In fearful defense, they attack the Okies
as marauders who mean to destroy both populations through
their desperation. This fear transforms into hostility, which
reveals itself in the story through the deputies and managers
who abuse and assault the Joads, as well as other migrant
families in the workers' camps. Steinbeck goes on to write:
". . .wages went down and prices stayed up. The great
owners were glad and they sent out more handbills to bring
more people in. And wages went down and prices stayed up.
And pretty soon now we'll have serfs again."
While the citizens of California are engulfed in fear , the
business owners see opportunities to make profit off of both
the migrants and the natives. The next paragraph displays
the situation in which large fruit canneries drive the small
farms out of business by exploiting the desperate workers.
As more and more farmers are forced to sell their land, the
highways become more and more crowded with migrants, not only
from the midwest, but from California as well. This phenomenon
only gives credence to the accusations of the natives, fearing
for their jobs and their land.
The final section of the chapter is an ominous paragraph which
depicts the greed of the companies as the cause of conflict
between the workers in California, and the inevitable cause
of the companies' downfall. The paragraph reads:
"And the companies, the banks worked at their own doom
and they did not know it. The fields were fruitful, and starving
men moved on the roads. . . The great companies did not know
that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. . .
On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for
work, for food. And the anger began to ferment."
of land under large companies is ultimately the cause of strife
among the Okies and the Californians. However, it will ultimately
become a cause of strife for the companies. The fermenting
anger is evident throughout the novel within conversation
among the Okies, especially that which involves Jim Casy and
Tom Joad. When Casy dies and Tom leaves the family to carry
on his work, Steinbeck foreshadows that Tom will lead his
people to unite against oppression, and this action is what
most frightens the companies and banks. The 'fermenting anger'
which Steinbeck describes also relates to the novel's title,
as grapes serve as a symbol of the migrants, and the wrath
represents their anguish and hardship. The thin line between
hunger and anger is broken by the changes in land ownership,
and retaliation of the workers is the inevitable result.
four pages, Steinbeck greatly clarifies and expands upon his
story by examining the different emotions and reactions of
his general character groups. He takes two sides of an argument
and applies them to a third body rather than pit them against
each other. By mastering the use of the intercalary chapter,
he is able enrich his story with deeper thought and explore
it outside the boundaries of his main characters. In this
manner, Steinbeck is able to write a four-page chapter which
holds great meaning to a 581-page novel.